Nine years ago, on October 25, 2013, MindsEye did its first audio description event when we described the performance of “Peter Pan” put on by Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis at the Touhill using borrowed equipment from The Muny. Since then, our goal has been to expand the accessibility of arts and entertainment in the St. Louis area to those who are blind or partially sighted and, thanks to the tireless efforts of Art and Culture Director Magan Harms, we have done just that!
The first major expansion came in 2019 when MindsEye began providing audio description for Blues games. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and we knew we were on to something good! Then, the pandemic arrived.
All of our scheduled venues cancelled all their performances and events and shut their doors until the danger passed. However, where most might view this as a devastating blow, Magan saw opportunity. Recognizing that there are so many more avenues for audio description to explore, Magan used her time during the long months of lockdowns and uncertainty to execute an ambitious plan. Even before venues began opening their doors once again, she had already hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped since.
Knowing that people who depend on audio description were isolated in their homes during the pandemic, Magan worked to shift MindsEye’s Audio Description Program into virtual space. To do this, she developed new techniques for making audio description available outside the standard live broadcast from within a theater. By doing this, she described The Muny’s virtual summer season, pandemic PSAs, and Metro Theater’s virtual production of “Jacked!” along with creating recorded descriptions for the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis’ distanced productions of “A Late Summer Night’s Stroll” and “A Walking X-Mas Carol.” She developed and debuted a four-session, virtual, described ballet class in partnership with Vitality in Motion that quickly filled to capacity with people who are blind or partially sighted from around the country. Furthermore, she went on to add audio description for the Opera Theater of St. Louis, a virtual series at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and self-guided tours at the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum. All of this not only during a pandemic, but in a span of less than 16 months.
But she hasn’t stopped there! In the past year, Magan has not only added more shows from more venues, but has expanded the audio description program into classrooms, meetings, speaker series, fundraisers, stand-up comedy, art tours, circus performances, festivals, museum tours, air shows, burlesque shows, and cabarets! In fact, not only has 2022 seen the most diverse audio description events in MindsEye history, but the most audio description events period. At time of writing, MindsEye had either provided description for or is scheduled to provide description for 121 events for the 2022 calendar year, with a record-breaking 29 of those in June alone!
From having to borrow equipment to providing over 20 different kinds of audio description, the MindsEye Audio Description Program has come a long way under Magan’s stewardship. With her constantly keeping her eyes open for the next opportunity or advancement, we can’t wait to see what’s next!
Article by Adam Clark